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Arsenal vs Valencia Happy face, happy heart Broken, broken, broken hearts Ah, Valencia, I spent a memorable holiday there and loved it. But I can say one thing with something close to certainty, Unai Emery would probably still be manager now if the form we showed in beating Valencia in the semis of the Europa League had carried on to the Final. It didn’t and maybe it sometimes can be good to lose as I feel he didn’t fit Arsenal. He seemed a gentleman, very knowledgeable on football and his record in Spain was exemplary, as was his record in Europe. But Chelsea destroyed us, he never really recovered, and it paved the way for Arteta to take over, a manager that does fit Arsenal, even if he has his detractors. Unai Emery is part of this rivalry, though, and I will return to him in this blog. Emery's heart was taken out by Chelsea The thing is, Valencia are not a team we have played often. I will give you the bare statistics as they tell you almost nothing – 7 games, 3 wins, 3 losses and one draw. So, even stevens? Absolutely not. They have broken our hearts more than once and more than twice. And without the master from Spain, Mr Emery, maybe every tie would have gone their way. First Cut is the Deepest Let’s take the draw, the first match. We matched them, yes? Eh, no. It was the European Cupwinners Cup of 1980. It was our 70th match of the season, yes, you read that right, numerous cup replays against the great Liverpool and others meant Arsenal were tired, stretched and were beaten by West Ham in the FA cup final only 4 days before. Valencia had the exquisite Mario Kempes and the sublime Rainer Bonhof amongst others. But we had beaten the Masters Juventus on our way to the final. Liam Brady was our great and was now about to prove it on the big European stage. But their leader was the extraordinary Alfredo Di Stefano, often touted as the best player ever, as their manager. Despite his reputation, and his star names, they played it cagey, keeping a tight rein on Brady, giving away few chances. So yes, we got a draw 0-0 but they won on penalties, such a rare thing at the time that John Motson, for the BBC, kept explaining what was going to happen. Kempes missed the first and then we had Brady, very reliable from the spot. Except that night. The stars imploded. He missed. And then all the way to the 6th man and a very nervous Graham Rix needed to score. Pereira sensed his nervousness and saved quite easily. Valencia are our daddies from the start. Heart-breaking to lose 2 finals in a few days. Are you listening, Liverpool? Other teams have lost 2 trophies one after the other in heart-breaking fashion. Mario Kempes somehow missed And so the next time, Arsene Wenger had appeared. We probably had the best team in Europe yet were struggling to prove it in the Champions league. It was April 2001, the quarter finals and we had all our big stars except Bergkamp, Kanu substituting for him. They had a good team but not up to our class and so we beat them 2-1 at home after they went one up first half with Robert Ayala. Henry and it’s only Ray Parlour scored 2 in 2 minutes to give us a win. Ayala’s goal was the decider as they won the return 1-0 with a second half goal from John Carew. Again they are our daddies. We should have beaten them but somehow Wenger couldn’t do it in Europe most of the time. Heartbreak city. You have got to remember we had such a sublime side with players all clubs wanted. Liam Brady also missed Don’t go breaking my heart And so next season we got our chance for revenge. We had got through to the second group stage and played them first at home. We had Bergkamp back but we limped along to a 0-0. Then the return? John Carew scored on 34 to put them through. Eh, no, then Henry scored on 49 to put us through on away goals. Finally we will beat them? Nope, John Carew again on 57 to put them through. We learned to hate him, the big, lanky Norwegian. And so they did it again, stop sending us home crying, Valencia. Big John Carew -go away And so to our man, Emery. The poor guy suffered tremendous ad hominem attacks for us. Attacking his pronunciations, his strange English, his histrionics on the side of the pitch, in fact any personal attack that was possible. He quite rightly complained that Arteta was given far better treatment than he was despite similar results. And he was up against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2019, who each time before had beaten us like puppies. Owner of a lonely heart He was an expert on Valencia having managed them for several years and got them regularly into Champions league. He showed this expertise with Arsenal and a team we wouldn’t recognise today despite it only being 3 years. Cech, Kolasinic, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Ozil, and Guendouzi played. But it all started out as normal – they scored after 11 minutes with Diakhaby and the curse of Valencia was still alive. Emery, despite his knowledge of the club couldn’t save us from another defeat. Except he could, Lacazette scored 2 shortly afterwards to give us a chance and then Aubameyang on 90 to give us a real chance of making the final of the trophy Emery was the master of. Not a total eclipse of my heart And so the second leg in Valencia. Surely we could finally beat them in a tie? Unbelievably they did it again on 11 minutes with Gameiro opening the scoring. I couldn’t take any more of Valencia, they always seemed to break our hearts. But this time Emery was too good for them as Aubameyang was on fire. A hat trick on 17, 69 and 88 meant it was one of his best matches. Lacazette got another on 50 so that another from Gameiro didn’t matter. We had finally got it, the win we wanted over Valencia. The bogeyman had been slain and it was Unai Emery, in his finest moment for us, who did it. To my mind, he was our most unpopular manager since Bruce Rioch but over those 2 matches he was good. Of course, Chelsea trashed us and he then tarnished that memory. Terry Neill couldn’t beat them nor Arsene Wenger, but Emery did. At least thank you for that memory. You didn’t deserve, nor does anyone, the personal attacks. 3 goals to break the Bats hearts And so, what next? I am sure we will meet them again. We have finally got on top. Let us hope that the Valencia curse has finally gone away.
Our youngest ever manager Terry Neill at just 34 took over as manager in 1976, our youngest ever. And I can’t see that record ever changing as Arsenal is such a big business now. He played 275 times for us in the 60’s and scored 10 goals as a centrehalf. He was our youngest ever captain at 20 so he had a good Arsenal pedigree. He was a Northern Ireland international and captain playing 59 times. He was one of the youngest ever managers in the game when he took over as player manager at Hull in 1970 at only 28. He was a good player, a born leader and I always liked him. I was very happy when he took over. There was something reassuring about his face. Bertie Mee had ran his race, I couldn’t see any prospect of him turning things around, and nor could the board. Although maybe he really did resign. Turned to black and white Terry Neill, then, was Arsenal. He knew what it was like to wear the red and white. But he turned to 2 players more used to black and white for his first important signings, Pat Jennings of Spurs, and Malcolm MacDonald (SuperMac)of Newcastle. Jennings took over from Jimmy Rimmer and MacDonald from John Radford. MacDonald was a great player to have, a goalscorer, flamboyant, and everyone knew who he was. He only managed 14 appearances for England but still he was regarded as one of the best in the game. Jennings was famous for the size of his hands and his perfection of using his whole body to save shots. Peter Schmeichel, years later, was the next great such keeper. His hands were big The unmatched Irish trio Liam Brady was an Irish international who would go on to become a world great, and to this day Gooners talk about him with awe. He had a skillset unmatched. Watch the youtubes, you young Gooners, to see the magic. He couldn’t tackle or defend, but his left foot mesmerized defenders, and his ability to see the game as a great player, meant having Brady in the side always gave you a chance, even when the game is slipping away. Such as the time against Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final when they came back from 2-0 down to draw level to 2-2. Everything was going wrong. United were all over us, and we looked shellshocked. If United didn’t score another they would surely annihilate us in extra time. We were gone. Except Brady said no, we are Arsenal, we will win. Despite there only being one minute to go, he got the ball, went on a mazy run, right up to the edge of the box, slipped the ball to Graham Rix, who lashed it across to Alan Sunderland who popped in a simple goal to destroy the Mancs and send them home crying to Salford. It was the Liam Brady final when he proved we were Arsenal. Again, young Gooners, watch the youtube, you will get a feel of his majesty on the ball. Frank Stapleton was another Irish youngster who came through the ranks. He was a top class forward, always causing trouble to defenders as he was good in the air and with his feet. He was strong and classy. For 3 years he was our top scorer and himself and SuperMac terrorized defences everywhere. He scored 108 goals in 300 matches. Very good going for a team who were not at the top of the league. He was a certain starter for the Republic of Ireland and that was the big difference between this team and the teams I had been used to up to now. It was packed with first choice internationals at a time when the international game was the most important. Arsenal were gathering fans like crazy in Ireland and I was definitely not alone as I had been as a kid. Why no statue of David O'Leary outside the Emirates? David O’Leary was another and I do not understand why there is no statue to him outside the Emirates. 772 first team appearances! 20 years a player! Now a club ambassador and there is strong talk of him joining the board as a football expert like Bobby Charlton at Man U. He was a real player, he forged partnerships with so many centrebacks it is hard to credit. He was cultured, played beautiful football for a defender and claimed many a scalp of top players, most notably the sublime Mario Kempes was shackled in the Cupwinners cup final of 1980 and couldn’t get near scoring, ending 0-0. It went to penalties and we were beaten 5-4. I hate to say who missed our first penalty to give the advantage to Valencia but it was Liam Brady, our penalty taker. But then Kempes, their penalty taker, missed as well so the two greats let their team down. But O’Leary certainly didn’t and as far as I know he never took a penalty for Arsenal. I think the only time he ever did was for Ireland, against Romania in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. It went to a shootout to take us to the quarterfinals, and when Packie Bonner saved from Daniel Timofte, O’Leary stepped up to fire it home and started the most crazy celebrations in Ireland ever. Everyone from that era always remembers that day. O’Leary of Arsenal showed Ireland they were Arsenal. We could win. But there is plenty more to talk about from the late 70’s. We have 3 FA cups in a row for next time.